All horses deserve to be happy and feel safe. Caring for your horse and learning to understand his/her needs will help you identify what you need to do to prevent your horse feeling worried, upset, frightened and stressed. By doing this, you will be providing your horse freedom from fear and distress.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom from Fear and Distress. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your horses receive the love, understanding and companionship they need to be free from fear and distress.
Horses are social and herd animals. This means that they really need another horse with them most of the time. In the wild, horses stick together in herds (groups) and all look out for one another. Horses will take turns protecting one another, grooming one another, and playing with one another. A horse should not be forced to live on his/her own.
Although you and your horse might be best friends, this isn’t really enough to take the place of a companion horse. Horses need a horse companion who they can do horse things with! They will feel safer in a group and will be able to socialise with other horses while you are at school or busy and can’t be with them.
Horses that do not have another horse for a company will feel bored, lonely, and scared. If you keep a horse alone, you will notice behaviours that indicate your horse is distressed and unhappy such as:
In some situations, a horse can bond with animals of other species. There have been stories of horses becoming best friends with chickens, goats and even cats! If you have other animals in the same paddock as your horse and they get on well, that is great and will provide some company for your horse.
However; another compatible horse (one with which your horse gets on well) is always the best companion. When horses are together, they can perform a wider range of natural behaviours together and feel safer than if they were alone or with another kind of animal.
Horses are naturally prey animals; this means that they are always on the lookout for potential predators and will usually run at the first sight of danger. Therefore, horses can be very alert and quite reactive, often taking their time getting used to new situations, environments, people and animals.
Horses that feel threatened or scared will attempt to run away, or if they feel trapped, they could even try kicking, stomping or biting. For this reason, you should be very careful when you approach your horse; always make sure your horse can see you coming and that you are not sneaking up on him/her.
Horses will also get startled by loud noises such as dogs barking or fireworks. You should try and protect your horses from noises that might scare him/her, by always making sure your horse has a safe place to shelter when he/she feels scared.
With time, and in some cases training, you can help your horse overcome some of his/her initial fears. Being in a pair or group of horses will also help your horse feel less fearful.
When you first get your horse, he/she might be a bit nervous around you, especially if the horse hasn’t previously been trained to be used to people.
There will be times where you will need to handle your horse, such as if need to move your horse by putting him/her on a float, grooming, health check-ups or if you plan on riding him/her. Horses are nervous and flighty animals, so you will need to be calm and gentle with your horse and give him/her time to get used to you and the handling.
With positive reward-based training and gentle handling, your horse will learn to trust you. Always use a soft, gentle voice around your horse and never yell at him/her.
Approach your horse from where he/she can see you clearly and won’t get a fright. There is lots of information on positive horse training and handling available; try your local library or access information on the internet through a well-respected and reputable organisation.
Horses would naturally spend most of their day moving around looking for food. This means horses are used to being active and on the move. Therefore, you shouldn’t keep your horse confined to very small spaces such as leaving the horse in stables all day or tethered in a small area. Horses need to exercise to be healthy and happy.
Horses who are left confined in small spaces become depressed, unhealthy and often develop behavioural problems. Horses need to be able to express their natural behaviours in order to feel happy and avoid distress.
From time to time, you may need to transport your horse. To transport your horse, you will need to use a special horse trailer, called a float. This gets attached to a car by a tow bar. A horse needs to walk up a ramp into the trailer (this ramp is usually attached to the horse float or may sometimes be separate).
With the help of an adult, you will need to train your horse to get used to being transported, as at first, he/she will probably be a little frightened. With help from an adult, lead your horse to the ramp and try to lead him/her up the steps, with lots of encouragement, praise and food rewards. Do not rush or push your horse or get mad if he/she it is too scared to go into the trailer. Let your horse take his/her time getting used to the small dark space.
It is a good idea to just take your horse on small, short trips in the horse float to start with so that he/she doesn’t get too overwhelmed. Once your horse has gotten used to travelling, you and your family can travel longer distances with him/her.